Midnight Crossroad Page 17

’’There aren\'t any prints on the gun,’’ Smith told him, with no inflection in his voice. ’’We\'re waiting for the medical examiner\'s final report on the cause of death. I\'ll be back. But you know, Mr. Winthrop, it doesn\'t look good for you if the medical examiner\'s report shows Mrs. Lowry died of a gunshot.’’

’’Yeah,’’ Bobo said. ’’My ass will be toast.’’

’’I\'ve checked into Buffalo and Eagle\'s allegations.’’ Smith took a step closer. ’’At least five members of this group have told me that two Men of Liberty, Seth Mecklinberg and Curtis Logan, came over here to talk to you. They were very vague about what these two gentlemen had to say to you, or why they came from Lubbock instead of the Marthasville branch of MOL. My guess would be so you couldn\'t recognize them, as you might recognize someone from Marthasville.’’

’’I did not do anything to those men, and I don\'t know why they\'d think I did,’’ Bobo said. ’’I have no idea what happened to them.’’

’’Since no one has filed a missing-person report on them, they\'re not part of our investigation at the moment,’’ Smith said. ’’But if they really are missing and we find someone to say they saw those two men in this area, you know this is going to get much worse for you.’’

’’I understand,’’ said Bobo. He stood up. He was several inches taller than the sheriff, but at the moment he felt that Arthur Smith was the larger man.


Olivia had had some mysterious business to take care of, and she had to uncover the name of the man who\'d been beaten by Zane Green. According to Fiji, Olivia had great computer skills and a lot of knowledge and connections in the lawyer community. Evidently Olivia was able to exercise one of her talents, since Fiji called Manfred after a day to tell him that they\'d go on their ’’field trip’’ (as Manfred privately called it) to the Cartoon Saloon that night.

Olivia, the only one who\'d already been there, said that the saloon lay between Midnight and Marthasville, but much closer to the larger town. ’’I promise you a sight worth seeing,’’ she promised them as they piled into Manfred\'s car.

’’Wow,’’ said Manfred, when he parked by a huge cutout of Yosemite Sam. ’’Cool sign. But weird.’’

’’Hmmm,’’ said Fiji. ’’Interesting.’’

Olivia just smiled broadly. ’’You ain\'t seen nothing yet,’’ she said. ’’By the way, we\'re looking for a guy named Deck Powell.’’

Manfred walked into the bar with an unaccustomed feeling of pride. He was accompanied by two attractive women, both older than himself. Fiji had made an attempt to style her hair, which had resulted in a headful of brown curls in a sort of Shirley Temple effect. She\'d worn a flirty black skirt, a black and green patterned shirt that emphasized her bosom (and there was plenty to emphasize), and some black heels, which she managed with more grace than Manfred had expected. Olivia had worn designer jeans, a halter top beneath a kind of mesh sweater (since, after all, it was early October), and boots that boosted her up way above Manfred. Olivia led the way and paid their cover charge, and while they were being shown to their table, Olivia\'s eyes were everywhere.

Manfred realized that Olivia was armed. He didn\'t know what kind of weapon she was carrying or where it might be her purse? Strapped to her leg? but he could read her well enough to know she was ready for trouble.

Manfred thought, I\'m more worried, and yet I feel safer.

Actually, he felt pretty badass. One of the ladies with him could freeze you, and one could defend him with weapons.

The waitress appeared at their table in a pleasantly short time. She correctly identified Olivia as the group alpha and turned to her first.

’’Mezcal, straight up. Extra añejo, if you got it,’’ Olivia said.

’’Reposado okay?’’

’’That\'ll do.’’

Fiji looked blank during this exchange, and she ordered a glass of chardonnay. Manfred thought he might look wussy if he ordered wine, too, but his talent sometimes acted up if he drank too much. He settled on a Michelob.

He had time to look at the walls while they waited for the drinks. ’’Damn,’’ he said.

’’I agree,’’ said Fiji, staring. The walls were decorated like a crazy day care center, with three-foot-tall cartoon characters in a frieze that circled the room. Manfred couldn\'t figure out how they\'d been made, but they were expertly drawn and mounted. SpongeBob SquarePants and Foghorn Leghorn, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Marge Simpson, Jessica Rabbit and Meg Griffin, Wile E. Coyote and WALL-E.

They were all drinking alcoholic beverages.

’’I\'m sure the Disney lawyers would like to know about this,’’ Manfred murmured. ’’And that\'s just the first company on the list.’’

’’I didn\'t expect to find something this bold and bizarre in Marthasville,’’ Fiji said.

Marthasville, about thirty-five miles west of Midnight, had pretensions to artiness. With a population of fifty thousand, it was a sizable town compared to Midnight, and it was in another county. There was a whole row of bars in Marthasville, and they were all decorated and themed. The presence of a college may have accounted for the bar boom, but the age range of patrons went from lean dried-up men in their seventies (wearing cowboy hats as part of their normal attire) to young people who were just barely legal, like Manfred.

When their costumed waitress returned with their drinks, Manfred noticed that she was dressed and styled as Wilma Flintstone. Another waitress was Betty Boop. The bartender was a superhero maybe Aquaman?

He laughed out loud. ’’This,’’ Manfred said, ’’is a great bar.’’

’’It\'ll be a greater one if we can find out what we need to know,’’ Olivia said.

’’How do we do that?’’ he asked, confident she had a plan.

Olivia shook her head, as if she despaired for him. She looked from him to Fiji, making mental calculations. ’’You and Feej make a more credible couple than you and me,’’ she said. Manfred didn\'t know whether to be flattered or insulted, so he just nodded. ’’Okay, here\'s our scenario,’’ Olivia said, and they bent their heads together like experienced conspirators.

The next time their waitress approached the table (and since Olivia had tipped big, that was pretty soon), Manfred said, ’’Wilma, maybe you can help us out, here? My friend Livvy has a blind date with a guy, but we don\'t see anyone who looks like the picture she got, and we\'re afraid he\'s standing her up.’’

’’Wilma’’ looked from Manfred to Olivia. She seemed to be trying to decide if he was joking. ’’Anybody who\'d skip out on a date with her has to be out of his mind,’’ Wilma said frankly. She seemed relieved to be standing still for a moment.

’’True, but maybe he doesn\'t know that,’’ Manfred said. ’’Guy name of Deck Powell?’’

’’Deck? Deck has a date with you?’’ Wilma looked at ’’Livvy’’ with flattering disbelief. ’’He must have been praying hard, or your brother owes him money, or something. He\'s usually in by now. I\'ll come over and tell you when I see him.’’

’’Oh, thanks,’’ Manfred said. Olivia did her best to look embarrassed by the whole situation. Manfred ordered another round of drinks because he figured it was his turn, and he tipped Wilma as liberally as Olivia had. Wilma gave him a surreptitious wink.

None of them had quite finished the first round, so their table began to look a little crowded when the fresh drinks came. Fiji took care of her original glass of wine and lifted her second. She said, ’’I\'d take pictures of the walls with my phone, but I\'m afraid the bouncer would step on it and crush it. Not that I would mind if he came over.’’

Manfred glanced over at the door. The bouncer was a hard, handsome man with some miles on him. ’’Fiji, I\'m betting you don\'t drink a lot,’’ he said, trying to suppress a smile.

’’I don\'t,’’ she confessed. ’’How did you know?’’

’’Just a lucky guess.’’

’’You think he\'d like my phone number?’’

’’Feej, that guy is tough as nails, and he\'s not only been around the block, he\'s run a marathon. He could eat you for breakfast,’’ Olivia said, half smiling.

’’And wouldn\'t that be a great way to wake up?’’ Fiji said, with a broad wink. Manfred laughed;he couldn\'t help it.

’’Wilma’’ caught Manfred\'s eye. She tilted her head toward the bar. A newcomer stood there waiting for his drink, and he wasn\'t looking around at the walls like a first-time visitor. He was looking at the people. He had a receding chin with a sort of billygoat beard, a nose that had been broken more than once, and prominent blue eyes.

Manfred nudged Olivia. ’’Sic him,’’ he said. ’’There\'s your blind date.’’

Olivia narrowed her eyes. ’’Well, damn, no wonder the waitress was surprised.’’ She got to her feet with a smooth economy of movement.

As she made her way to the bar, Manfred turned to Fiji. To his surprise, she was watching him with sharp eyes. ’’You\'re not as drunk as you sounded,’’ he said.

’’I do think the bouncer\'s cute,’’ she said. ’’And I\'m a little tipsy. But I\'m not likely to get drunk. It\'s too dangerous.’’

’’For you?’’

’’For other people.’’

Manfred remembered the frozen woman in Fiji\'s yard. He had to agree with her policy. He glanced over to see what progress Olivia was making with Deck. Deck was clearly startled but delighted. He didn\'t seem to be questioning his good luck.

’’Such fools,’’ Fiji muttered, and Manfred said, ’’Hey, I\'m a man, remember?’’

’’Sorry,’’ she said. ’’You\'re a better man than most.’’

’’Thanks,’’ he said, though he didn\'t feel truly mollified. Olivia worked her way through the crowd to arrive back at their table. Along the way, she commandeered another chair for her new acquaintance.

Olivia introduced them all, first names only, and then began a convoluted conversational path designed to discover more about Zane Green, the Man of Liberty who\'d punched Deck out at this very bar. If Manfred hadn\'t known her strategy, he never would have guessed her goal. He helped as much as he could by telling an utterly fictitious story of a bar fight he\'d been in. Fiji, who\'d been mostly silent, said, ’’Manfred here got knocked clean out, and he pressed charges against that asshole.’’ That proved to be the clincher.

’’Wow, you did? My hat\'s off to you, man,’’ Deck said. ’’When I got knocked out here at the saloon, the guy who beat me up was such a badass I thought I\'d be worse off taking him to court. As a matter of fact, the next night his posse, along with the head honcho, showed up at my house and told me I better not, or they\'d burn me out. And I believed them.’’

’’That\'s awful,’’ Olivia said. ’’Who was this . . . head honcho?’’

Deck leaned in to indicate this was very confidential news he was telling his friends of ten minutes. ’’Price,’’ he said, and waited for them to react with shock and horror. When they didn\'t react at all, he said, ’’Price Eggleston. The rich guy. He belongs to one of them militia-type groups, and he\'s one mean sumbitch, \'scuse me, ladies.’’

’’You mean, this group isn\'t just all e-mails and threats . . . ?’’

’’No, they are the real deal,’’ Deck said solemnly. ’’You do not cross them.’’

Fiji said, ’’Sounds pretty hard-core. And they\'re based here?’’

Deck nodded, after a swig of beer. ’’Two miles out of town. But enough about those bastards,’’ he said, ’’let\'s have some fun! Livvy, you want to dance?’’

’’Sure,’’ Olivia said, and off they went, two-stepping around the floor.

’’It\'s not fair that she can dance, too,’’ Fiji said. ’’But I\'ll forgive her, since that was a masterly interrogation.’’

’’I can\'t dance at all,’’ Manfred confessed.

’’I can dance a little,’’ Fiji said. ’’I can cook. I can cast spells. Dancing? Not so much.’’

’’You\'re a good friend,’’ Manfred said. ’’You can do friendship well.’’

’’Thanks,’’ she said. ’’That\'s a fine compliment. And you know what, I\'m going to give that bouncer my phone number on my way out.’’

’’Bold move.’’ Manfred was confused, because he was sure Fiji was nuts about Bobo, but he wasn\'t about to bring it up, not with her mood being so peculiar.

’’Do you think he\'ll call me?’’

That was a trick question if Manfred had ever heard one. ’’He\'d be a fool not to,’’ he said, and Fiji laughed.

It took Olivia an hour to extricate herself from Deck, an hour in which Manfred and Fiji had a third drink apiece, though they sipped them as slowly as they could.

On their way out, Fiji handed a piece of paper to the bouncer and introduced herself. He did not seem startled by this, but he nodded at her politely and introduced himself right back. ’’Travis McNamara,’’ he said. ’’You have a good night, you hear?’’

’’You, too,’’ Fiji said, with a sideways smile full of fun.

Manfred had never seen her look so flirty.

’’Could have gone worse,’’ Fiji told them, as she walked carefully across the gravel to Olivia\'s car. She was talking about the bouncer, but Olivia answered about Deck.

’’Yes,’’ Olivia agreed. ’’He looked like a guppy with a beard, but he could really dance. Plus, eventually he gave me all the information I needed to know.’’

’’Which was?’’ Manfred said, buckling his seat belt.

’’That Price Eggleston and his buddies have a house about two miles east of Marthasville. Which you heard. But he narrowed down the location. It\'s on the way home. It\'s the MOL Big Secret Clubhouse. I bet they only let girls in if they put out for the membership.’’ Olivia looked calm, but it was an angry, tight-jawed sort of calm.

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